Well, we had been back in France for two full weeks, CAMP MOM was in full swing and a weekend with no plans was looming. Of course, we blew our vacation wad (majorly) while in the US and London but here we were - a continent awaits! I decided I could cut back on groceries, clothing and other peripherals to shave 200 Euros off our usual budget. I spent some time figuring we could swing it. All we would need is tolls, gas, food, activities and lodging for a family of five…. 200 Euros should about cover it, right? I could write a book – Tour Europe for 20 Euros a Day!
We were in the Alps over last Christmas http://blunderingbesancon.blogspot.com/2009/01/italy.html and loved the mountains. I have decided there is no way to avoid overusing the word beautiful in this post – so I am using synonym.com to find alternatives – should be interesting… We wanted to go back to a different area of the Alps and we wanted to camp so we ended up, after some research, in the Jungfrau region. We left very early (like 6am) Saturday morning and got to the first stop on our list, Grindelwald, also known as ‘Glacier Village’, by about 10:30 am. We did stop for a few minutes by the amazingly beauteous Lake Thunasee. You can see André standing in front of it. People can boat and swim in the water. Callie and I both touched it, and it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. The navigating was a bit difficult – in general I’d say that Google maps doesn’t do international all that well. Also, having the signs in German was really disconcerting for me. Last time, I remember not noticing too much of a difference – it’s all French to me! But when we were trying to find our way this time I was really bewildered by most of the signs. Of course, it is also a bit hard when all you want to do is stare, stupefied by the bonnie mountains. André can read some German so he helps a bit but he was having trouble figuring the speed limit – he was really hoping to have an Audobon type experience since it seemed some cars were going about 500 miles an hour. We stopped at a gas station but were told the limit was a lowly 100 km/h – rats! Hope we get to try it when we go to Germany!
We wanted to go to Grindelwald for one reason – to touch a glacier (or glancher as the kids kept calling it). We knew that you could take a tram to the ‘top of Europe’ to be inside one as Grandma and Grandpa Peterson had done in the spring but couldn’t make that happen on our budget. Instead, we figured us hardy types would simply hike on up there. We got out of the car, went potty and then, following our long standing family tradition, took a break at the playground for about half an hour. Yes, we regularly drive several hours to experience the wonder of a slide. It really was a fun playground, if only for the comely backdrop. I am super-proud of the shot of Callie smiling on the swing – how’s that for timing, folks?
We wandered back through the parking lot and over to the giant sign (all in German) that seemed to indicate the way to the glacier and started off. Pretty soon we passed a lovely stream and, of course, had to stop for awhile to play. All the kids still love to throw things in streams, and lately, Zander is particularly interested in throwing buoyant things as boats. We finally moved on towards the glacier. At least, we hoped we were correctly following the signs!
As we got closer we saw we would have to use a very steep and long staircase to reach the top of a cliff to where the glacier was. It looked pretty intimidating! We got closer and found out we even had to pay to go up and down the thing. (It was only about 20 Swiss Francs, but I was still miffed). We were all excited for the climb but no one more than Griffin Emil. He was the leader from the first step, right up to the top. I know I’m prejudiced, but I think his endurance, strength, coordination and bravery is absolutely amazing for a 4 year old – or even an 8 year old. When he is in the mood to hike, he doesn’t slow us down one bit. In fact, in this case, I had to really push to keep up with him. Right, you can see I was not always successful as he forges fearlessly ahead! The video below shows his attitude as we head for the ‘glancher’. I LOVE this video – it really captures true Griffin-ness.
Within 5 or 10 minutes of climbing, the trail we walked in on was far, far, far, far below – and we had not even barely begun. The river we had played in was reduced to a mere ribbon of chalky brownness. We climbed and climbed following our leader, for at least 45 minutes. We only rested when our leader said it was OK, so that meant not too often. There were other people on the staircase, but it certainly didn’t seem crowded. The view at the top was beyond description. People, you have to go to the Alps – the pictures don’t do it any justice – go and see how resplendent it is for yourselves.
So there we were, ready to play in the snow in August. I had brought some sweaters with us and it was chilly enough to wear them while we stopped to eat our picnic. André is leaning up against a typical rock found in this area. I hope you can tell it looks kind of scraped – we think this is from the glacier running over it and grinding it smooth. We finished off the pretty trail by walking over a suspension bridge over a river. Callie, Griffin and I wanted to bounce on it but Zander and Daddie got too freaked out. So…. like, where’s the glacier??? Turns out that global warming has been no stranger to this area of the world. I am pictured leaning against the fence at the end of the trail and that little white stuff you can see in-between the cliffs? That would be what’s left of the glacier. Hence, we were not even close to touching it. We were all so disappointed – André and Zander even tried climbing a bit closer as we’d seen others do – but it was too steep and dangerous. On the way back I noticed some pulchritudinous Alpine wildflowers. I seem to be over my wildflower obsession and feel no burning need to scour every roadside for new specimens. In general, though scenic, it was very stark and empty up there, you can see how the kids stand out like little dots of color against the barren background. I think having the glacier over this spot much of the year until recently must have inhibited growth. We saw a poster that showed how the glacier has receded year after year. If we had just visited 8 years ago the entire valley where we were standing would have been covered in ice all year round. In fact, they used to have a measuring tool set up so you could see how the glacier grew (in cold months) and receded (in warmer months) day by day. It was so sad but I guess we were lucky to even catch a glimpse since, at this rate, there will be nothing left to see at all in another 10 years. It really makes me frightened for the future of our planet. I hope all this touring gives our kids an appreciation for he wonders of our earth – and the desire to protect it. Many tourists didn’t stop at this site and rest like we did. They took a peek and turned around and headed back. Were they mad about the glacier or just in a hurry? I wonder if lots of other tourists were in the know and that’s why this area wasn’t super crowded. The snack bar was devoid of visitors, and pictured left, the tiny house perched on the cliff seemed deserted completely. We were wondering who owned it. We thought that maybe it was some wealthy family’s summer retreat, but, how do they get up there? And what about getting food, etc….???
We headed back down the stairs, taking turns being leader this time around. We could see this one distinctive-looking mountain with a kind of a sharp top quite frequently. After consulting my maps, I’m pretty sure it was the Eiger. There are 3 famous tall mountains in this region – the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau (translates to Ogre, Monk and Virgin), and once you are on top of those (which we didn’t do) you can also see the super famous Mt. Blanc. I have no idea what the mountains across the valley were named. They must be much lower since they don’t have any snow or anything at this time of year but I thought they were still pretty stunning. Have I mentioned yet this is something you just have to see for yourself??? We headed back to the car. Along the way we passed the same stream we had played in earlier – I guess the sun had been melting the ice since the water was much higher and colder than when we had passed in the morning. We were off to check out our campsite – in Lauterbrunnen.
As we were passing through Grindelwald again, I got this shot of another glacier – it came out better than any shots did when we were actually close! The kids all fell asleep on the way over to Lauterbrunnen. This was good since they had been up since 5:30 am and we still had lots of fun stuff to experience that day. Lauterbrunnen has got to be one of the most splendiferous villages in Switzerland. It rivals Baume les Messiurs which was my favorite village until we saw this place. There is this giant, fine-looking waterfall that just runs right down the side of one of the cliffs next to the valley. I realize I am running out of synonyms here – but that is the Alps. They are just so picturesque I can’t help myself! We got to the campsite fairly easily. This was the first time we’d been camping and we were really excited. These European campgrounds are super crowded as you can see from the photo above. There were thousands of people at the site. They had cabins to rent, mobile homes, spaces for RV’s or trailers and areas to pitch a tent. Of course, we went for that and the charge for a square of earth for a night was 50 Francs or so. Of course, this included access to all the amenities of the camp (like really clean and nice bathrooms!) We got the tents set up for the evening, woke up the kids, and headed over to the playground. You can see the waterfall left, from where the kids were playing. We used the camp grill to do hotdogs and I also brought graham crackers from the US so we could make s’mores. We even shared some with some Germans that were there on vacation as well. It was a really international campground. I could see why so many people would travel from all over the world just to see this place.
After dinner, we headed out for a walk to see the village a bit more. I really enjoyed walking as the sun was setting. The colors of the sunset were reflected on the snow on the mountains – totally sightly. We walked past this huge field with a small cabin plopped upon one corner. The ‘lawn’ was at least a couple of acres. Well, way out in the back was the proud owner, diligently mowing that grass…. with a little push mower. I can’t imagine how many hours (or even days) it must take to do this mammoth task, but he seemed happy enough. I thought of all the Americans with their giant John Deere riding mowers for their lawns and had to laugh. I’ve never seen one of those in Europe. I wonder if they exist here? And how do they maintain these grass topped roofs? I’d think it would be hard to keep your balance up there with a weed whacker…. We wandered on to see a cute little cemetery. I enjoy visiting cemeteries quite a bit. Last year, André and I took a tour of Laurel Hill, which is the cemetery overlooking the Schuykill in Philadelphia, and were saddened to see so many attractive monuments in disrepair. One thing that was very common (but completely abandoned in the US) were graves made with a hollow planter in front of them. Well, this cemetery had many of these types of tombs as well, but all filled with fine-looking, living flowers. There was a large shelving unit along one of the paths filled with plants and flowers one could purchase. These ranged from a small flower for a few francs to giant chrysanthemums that were like, 50! Of course, it was all the honor system complete with the little piggy-bank like box to drop the money into. I enjoyed looking at how many of the graves were made of the local stone of the Alpine mountains. Many of them had wonderful carvings on them . I also thought this wooden one was cool – it had a steeply slanted roof on it – just like the houses – so the snow wouldn’t pile up too high!
Into the Abyss….
We went into the town, which was pretty much shut down except for restaurants and stumbled into an ad for a Swiss folklore show to be held the following day. We had lots of fun playing around these interesting glowing globes made out of rock. The kids were so interested in how these were made I was forced to take a photo of the interior, in case they ever want to make one for our house. We then headed back to camp, only stopping along the way to visit the Stubbach Falls. Yes, by this point it was dark, but it turns out they have giant spotlights highlighting the waterfall and a path you can travel to go right up under the waterfall. Well, the kids had had their nap earlier and this would be our only chance. You know us well enough by now to figure out we said, why not? It was 8:15 and the lights would be on until 9 – we had 45 whole minutes to hike up and get back down before our visibility would be nil. We started up the hill and, I have to confess, after the earlier activities of the day, my legs were a bit like jelly! We got towards the top and were presented with a totally black tunnel. Apparently, one has to go through this to get to the stairs running under the waterfall. I always carry a small flashlight in my purse, but we thought it was forbidden to use it. Oh, well, how dark and long could it really be? How hard could it really be to go through a pitch black tunnel with 3 small kids? Surely there would be light at the end? There was a bunch of other folks watching us walk boldly forward with looks of amazement on their faces.
We tried for it, we did! We walked in a few hundred yards, allowing the dark to swallow us up completely, feeling ahead with our feet until the ground became uneven and the kids (and I) got just a bit too scared! We retreated to the light and started sadly down when 2 things happened. First, we saw some other people coming out of the tunnel with flashlights in their hands. Second, Zander stopped us and said, “Wait – maybe the sign didn’t mean, ‘No light allowed’. Maybe it meant ‘You are only allowed if you have your own light’!” Well, it was in German, and we are no quitters! We turned around, turned on my mini flashlight and went through the tunnel to the wet and slippery stairs that had been carved out of the rock under the waterfall. We stopped using the light after we got through the tunnel so we could continue to feel like real explorers. It was dark, scary and wonderful. The kids were brave – I was so proud of them – and they were proud of themselves as well. The view wasn’t much, since it was totally dark, but the experience was priceless. We went back down the stairs, last ones in except for one other couple and made it back down the hill before those lights were dimmed.
We tumbled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep, but not before stargazing for about half an hour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a brilliant night’s sky. We even saw a few shooting stars. It reminded me a bit of when I went to summer camp – we used to just lie and stare at the stars for hours. It did get quite cold in the night – our gear is so not suited for ‘real’ camping (more for a sleepover, actually) but it wasn’t that
Here is a shot of the waterfall, and a quote from another website (thanks http://www.myswitzerland.com/en.cfm/about_switzerland/offer.cfm?category=About_TopAttractions&subcat=Nature&id=8869)
“When Goethe visited the Lauterbrunnen valley in 1779 he made the Stubbach waterfall famous by dedicating his ‘Gesang der Geister über den Wassern’ to it:
The soul of man is like water.
It comes from heaven and rises again to heaven,
it ascends to heaven and falls again to earth, eternally alternating.
The pure stream flows from the high, steep rock face,
falls softly in cloud-waves onto the smooth rock and,
gently accepted, rolls and ripples into the abyss.
Next we headed less than a 10 minute drive away to see the Trummelbach. Grandma and Grandpa Peterson had visited this site in the spring and told us about it. The Trumelbach (thanks to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trummelbach for some of the facts!) is a series of ten glacier-waterfalls inside the mountain. You pay a nominal fee and can take a tunnel-lift up to the top fall. Then you wind your way down inside the mountain, viewing more falls as you go. The force and power of the water is indescribable. The rock that makes up these mountains is no sandstone but you can see how the water has shaped and molded the rock over countless centuries. The Trummelbach alone drains the mighty glacier defiles of the three largest mountains in this region - the Eiger (3970 m), Monk (4099 m) and Jungfrau (4158 m)! At points it literally looks like a knife has carved a slice into the rock. The force of these waters carry 20,200 tons of boulder detritus per year. I can’t imagine working in this place – you’d be deaf within a week! I wonder if they wear earplugs? The kids were pretty tired from all the walking the previous day and got a bit sick of all the noise – 10 different waterfalls, yes, but each required a bit of climbing to see. So much water flows through this baby because its drainage area is 24 km²,of which half is covered by snow and glaciers (until they all melt, and then what?). The shot at right is looking up from one of the lowest waterfalls to the top of the ridge – you can see how it has carved deeper and deeper through the rock. This waterfall handles up to 20,000 liters of water per second. That would be about 5,300 gallons! (No, I don’t think in metric – ever). These are also the only glacier-waterfalls in Europe that are found inside a mountain and are still accessible.
After the Trummelbach it was off to check out the Swiss Folklore Show. This was going to be held only one stop up the tram line at Grutschalp. As you can see this flyer was actually in English! So, it was obviously going to be a total tourist trap. But I didn’t care, I wanted to see all the things on the list – Alphorn blowing, Traditional yodeling (no nontraditional yodeling, please), Flag throwing (this is Swiss?), Folklore dress dance groups and Swiss Alpine Music (is there such a thing as Swiss music that is not Alpine?). We were lucky that the weather was nice and our final 50 francs was just enough to cover our roundtrip tram ride and our 5 franc entrance fee to the show. It was very, very crowded on the tram and the ride took only about 10 minutes. I am actually quite a bit miffed by the cost to ride these things. There don’t seem to be any accessible roads up to these towns – but the locals must drive, right? They pack these glass boxes to the gills and charge tons for the ride – it is such a racket. I guess that’s what drives the local economy, but still! It was fun to ride on, though and seeing the mountains from another angle was ravishing.
Well. the show was all it was promised to be. We got to sit and watch all the cool stuff. The dancing was mostly polka – I was wishing my parents (with my father in his lighter days) were there to show them some moves! There was some really cool group dances with complicated turns and things and although we were up the hill eating lunch at the time it was neat to hear and see a real Alpine horn. By far the best was the singing/yodeling. Sometimes, I feel like the life I lead now has just got to be some kind of weird dream. I feel like I need to turn to André and say “Pinch me, because there is no freakin’ way that I am actually on top of a mountain, in Switzerland, listening to yodeling!!!”. Even now, writing this blog, it still blows my mind how awesome it was. So here are a few photos and a video if you want to hear traditional yodeling. (In the past my yodeling exposure had been limited to the yodeling song in the Sound of Music and the Price is Right yodeling game – neither one the least bit traditional, I fear). What is it about yodeling anyway? I mean, I have to wonder – where did it start out? Why? And why is it the object of ridicule? I mean, look at rock and roll and rap – started small, got bigger and bigger and now is just ‘normal’ music. I have lots of friends that like music – music of all kinds – classical, asian groove, oldies, you name it – but do I know one, single, solitary person that is into yodeling? No, not so much – or at least I thought I didn’t until I looked up yodeling on wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yodeling. Turns out that yodeling is frequece of real Swiss cheese on bread as a snack (they were selling all sorts of local treats) but they wanted 6 francs for 1 piece! No money left for that, unfortunately! While walking we saw an awesome tunnel spider web, wild strawberries and some chicks and hens. I remember at the end of the front walk in my parents’ house in Ringwood there was this really big flat rock. It had a nice tree growing near it that shaded the rock and I used to spend hours playing and reading there. My mom had planted chicks and hens right near it that would come up each year – and here they were growing wild on the Alpine hillside.
Here is yet another splendid view we got to see. We were lucky some other hikers took a family picture. I am just soooo Heidi at this moment – where are the goats?
As we headed back down from Grutschalp, I took one last picture of Lauterbrunnen and the Stubbach. I miss it already. We headed for home around 2pm hoping to make it by dinner. It was very, very hot in the car on the way home – Mr. Liberty does not have air conditioning and it is too windy on the highway to keep the windows open so we finally did end up stopping at a McDonalds to get some ice cream and use up the last of our Francs before we re-entered the land of the Euro. This was the only time we ate out the entire trip! (But yes, we did keep on budget!) I noticed this childcare center when we were leaving the parking lot. Anyone want to leave their little one at ‘babywelt’?
We headed home a different way than we drove in, of course, and passed lots of stuff we didn’t have time to explore. One of the interesting things is that the border, when you are not on the main highway, is very easy to cross. In fact, it is so easy, you don’t even know you have crossed it. It even wavers back and forth a bit where we were driving so we were between Switzerland and France once or twice before we stayed in France for the rest of the drive. We passed through one town, Le Locle, that was quite large – much bigger than Besancon – that seemed to be both French and Swiss – it also featured lots of signs for Moulins sousterrians – which sounds pretty darn cool and turns out to be some kind of underground factory only 2km from the town in Cole-de-Roches. There was a cool chateau too – and you know we love castles. Perhaps we can camp near Villers-le-lac which we have been meaning to visit. All this only an hour from our home…. more adventures to come for sure.
I am very behind on blogging still so I can end with a story from earlier today. For some reason, Griffin must have been thinking about the Alps because, this morning during breakfast, he said, “Mom, I want to go back to the Alps.” Zander and Callie immediately chimed in with, “Me too!” This is the first place, in all our adventures, they’ve ever wanted to go back to. When I asked why, Griffin’s simple answer was: “Because it is so beautiful.” Sometimes, beautiful is just the right word.